Sparse Foreign Population in Mexico

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The limited representation of foreigners is evident in the fact that these individuals accounted for 1.0 percent of the country’s population. Mexico has not been a nation characterized by immigration, but rather by emigration. According to the 2020 Population and Housing Census, the number of people born abroad who resided in Mexico rose to 1,212,252.

The limited representation of foreigners is evident in the fact that these individuals accounted for 1.0 percent of the country’s population. Moreover, the immigrants in Mexico were approximately one-tenth of the Mexican emigrants to other latitudes.

The low proportion of foreigners has limited the exploitation of the potential benefits of immigration. In addition to non-economic benefits, such as cultural diversity, in any country, the immigrant population can drive economic improvement.

Specifically, as economies develop and go through processes of change and diversification, new human capital needs arise. It is possible that less skilled migrants complement and even eventually replace local workers, who may come to perform more sophisticated tasks, as has been observed in the advanced stages of development of other nations.

More important for progress is the immigration of highly skilled labor. The main factor of sustained economic growth is technological change, derived from innovation and the application of new knowledge.

There is ample evidence that highly skilled immigrants, including, among others, scientists, engineers, inventors, entrepreneurs, and teachers, support economic advancement. In particular, these individuals spread ideas from abroad, innovate, make discoveries, lead and coordinate the activities of others, and thus drive productivity.

No economy has benefited more from high-competence immigration than that of the United States, as demonstrated, among other indicators, by the considerable proportions of inventors, innovation production, patents, Nobel Prizes in physics, chemistry, medicine, and economics, and new businesses associated with immigrants in that territory.

Given its relative abundance of less skilled labor, Mexico would be especially favored with more highly skilled immigration. The obvious question is: why has it not attracted more immigrants? The simple answer is that the country has not offered a conducive environment for this purpose.

Among the possible factors that determine the attractiveness of a nation to the immigration of skilled labor, the opportunities to interact closely with other people of similar or greater abilities stand out. Such conditions, referred to in technical language as “agglomeration economies,” help explain why the highly skilled immigrant population tends to concentrate in a few countries and, within these, in certain regions and cities.

For example, according to the World Bank, while OECD nations represent less than one-fifth of the world’s population, they host two-thirds of highly skilled migrants. Moreover, the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia are the destinations for about 70 percent of these migrants. Likewise, talent clusters around cities like New York, London, Boston, and San Francisco.

In the competition for highly skilled labor, Mexico has faced structural weaknesses, among which are a basic educational system whose average quality is low and its coverage limited, universities with medium or low prestige for international standards, and meager investment in research and development.

In the competition for highly skilled labor, Mexico has faced structural weaknesses, among which are a basic educational system whose average quality is low and its coverage limited, universities with medium or low prestige for international standards, and a meager investment in research and development.

As a result, Mexico’s integration into the global economy has remained oriented towards the manufacturing of components and the assembly of parts in manufacturing processes with imported technology. With cheap labor being the main advantage, innovation has been minimal.

Far from having significantly increased talent from abroad, the salary differential, the unchallenging intellectual environment, and the increase in schooling have made Mexican emigration increasingly high-skilled, which has particularly benefited the United States. Thus, a significant proportion of people born in Mexico with doctoral degrees currently live in that country.

Mexico should take advantage of its proximity to the United States to build an accessible and attractive environment for the immigration and retention of professionals. This requires, among other aspects, a government strategy that allocates sufficient resources to fundamentally transform the educational system and permanently promote investment in research and development.

By Manuel Sánchez González

Source: El Financiero